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Loar was also on guard for college students who presented themselves as researchers and journalists but had ulterior motives. She says she saw the same scholars cheering Graves at public events. Rinehart makes a similar charge. She says Matt Barry, now a field rep in Graves' Liberty office, tried to volunteer for her campaign on repeated occasions. (Contacted by the Pitch, Barry deferred to Graves' press office.)
Loar crossed party lines to endorse Graves' Democratic opponent in the general election, lawyer Steve Danner, Pat Danner's son. The Graves campaign demonized Danner as a tax-and-spend liberal and a deadbeat, making an accusation that wasn't true. Graves claimed not long before the election that Steve Danner was sued over an unpaid hospital bill. But it was a different Steve Danner who had failed to pay. Graves acknowledged the error but never apologized.
Graves preferred to hit Steve Danner from a distance, refusing to participate in a televised debate. But in Graves' case, that might have been a smart strategy. When Sam Graves goes off-script, he can leave people scratching their heads. During the 2000 race, he equated the size of a candidate's war chest to his ability to connect with the people. Graves, who raised $1.1 million for that campaign, said Steve Danner's piddly purse ($800,000) showed that his opponent's appeal was limited. "If he truly represented the values of Missourians, voters would have given him more financial support," Graves told the Star two days before the November 2000 election.
Graves received more than half of his contributions from political action committees.
He won the election by 4 percentage points.
Graves is Baptist, pro-business and partisan -- a somewhat typical Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He's voted with his party at least 95 percent of the time in each of the past three years, according to Project Vote Smart, a nonpartisan campaign-information resource. Interest groups like the Christian Coalition, the National Rifle Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce give him high marks. He supported going to war in Iraq. "The threat is there," he told the Associated Press in August 2002, arguing for a preemptive strike against Saddam Hussein. "There is no doubt."
When Graves has disagreed with the Bush administration, he's done so from the right, calling for more barriers to immigration, fewer dollars for fighting AIDS in Africa, deeper tax cuts.
Graves is not entirely predictable. Many conservative Republicans favor vouchers for private schools; he does not. (His wife, Lesley, teaches kindergarten in a public school.) Graves' admirers say he comes by his convictions honestly. "This guy is just a truly wholesome person who really believes in what he's doing," says state Rep. Brad Lager, a Maryville Republican.
Conviction can be blinding. Graves brays for lower taxes, but in 2001 he voted for $74 billion in new farm subsidies. Graves has benefited himself from such assistance. He received $146,000 in agriculture subsidies from 1995 to 2002, according to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy group. His father collected $243,000.
Graves has reached into the pork barrel on behalf of his district. During his freshman year, he secured a $273,000 grant to defeat the menace of goth culture in Blue Springs. "About 35 students have been identified with goth culture," a Graves aide said at the time. "They're doing self-mutilation, animal sacrifices, the sort of violent behavior and drug use that possibly could lead to what happened at Columbine in 1999 with Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris."